“I’m making music where there’s no uncertainty about my sexuality.”

King Princess is limitless. Navigating conversations on heartbreak, gay sex and the world of drag, she takes full ownership of her art form, perfectly honing writing and producing. She’s an icon in the making.

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In March 2018, Harry Styles tweeted to his 30m followers: “I love it when we play 1950.” Brooklynite King Princess, real name Mikaela Straus, coyly replied: “this made me smile”. And there’s no guesses as to why; the tweet was a lyric from her debut single ‘1950’, released via Mark Ronson’s label Zelig Records, and it pretty much became a viral hit overnight. It’s now clocked up over 300 million Spotify listens and remains her most popular track on the streaming service to date.

Since that transformative tweet she’s played two sold-out shows at New York’s Terminal Five, had a career-defining performance at Glastonbury, as well as string of dates across America - it’s fair to say she’s come a long way over the past year. When we link up over the phone, she’s in her dressing room preparing for her Washington DC show as part of the tour for her debut album, ‘Cheap Queen’.

“The best part of my career is being able to work through the trauma of my breakups on stage,” she tells Clash. “That is so iconic to me. You do it together, and it really does take a village.”

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And ‘Cheap Queen’ is very much an ode to lost love. While tracks like ‘You Destroyed My Heart’, ‘Ain’t Together’ and ‘Watching My Phone’ perfectly punctuate the complex relationships that she’s endured over the past few years, unexpectedly upbeat jams like ‘Hit The Back’ and ‘Cheap Queen’ provide temporary respite from the record’s melancholy mood. Her emotional journey can be traced clearly through the tracklist.

“It truly was a journal,” she explains. “This year has been extremely tumultuous and while I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, it was really hard for a lot of reasons. I wrote [‘Cheap Queen’] chronologically and what was nice about this [process] was being able to listen through and hear the different segments of the year through the music, and I think it was enjoyable because writing music is my only form [of catharsis].”

Despite ‘Cheap Queen’ now receiving the seal of approval from her fanbase, the creative process wasn’t one that came easily to her. After the hugely favourable response to her first EP, ‘Make My Bed’, there was a lot of pressure on her to release something that eclipsed its success.

“It was really hard,” she says, with a momentary tone of sincerity. “I went through a six-month period of being horribly depressed and really scared. It resulted in so much fear and anger and I was really worried [that] I was going to disappoint somebody.”

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The rise of ‘stan culture’ and shifting release patterns within the industry has meant that fans now expect their faves to drop album after album, but King Princess was determined not to fall into the cycle of rapid releases. She didn’t want to deliver something “half-baked”, recognising that the key to longevity is releasing high quality material that endures, rather than fast fading music that is churned out to temporarily quench the thirst of a fanbase. You could argue that this mentality has been passed down to her by mentor Mark Ronson who, with a career spanning three decades, knows a thing or two about staying relevant in an ever-changing industry.

There was added pressure in that she was responsible for not only writing the record, but also producing it. She’s one of the few contemporary artists who can say that they take full ownership of their records’ production and writing, and her organic approach is something that is incredibly important to her.

“I’m a one-stop shop,” she declares. “I’m also a career artist. This career is not really about fame and it’s not really about money, it’s about who’s the best, skill-wise. I learned how to fucking do make-up this year. I didn’t know how to do make-up, I had no idea! I could literally not dance at all! If you told me in high school that I was going to be able to bust down on stage, I’d be like, ‘You’re crazy!’ If you take this career by the dick, you learn all this incredible shit.”

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Openly genderqueer (using she/her pronounces) and gay, she’s already become a part of LBGTQ+ iconography. It’s rare that you get to hear an album that so openly and honestly delves into the complexities of queer relationships without the facade of gender ambiguity or label cover-ups.

King Princess is part of a new wave of artists who are grabbing their queerness by the horns and shouting about it, as we all should. Previous tracks like ‘Pussy Is God’ have spotlighted her as someone who isn’t afraid to speak openly about gay sex and romance. We’re living in super sexually charged times where both political leaders in the UK and the US are grotesquely horny cis-white straight men - King Princess’ music is an antidote to that and it seeks to sexually empower queer young people.

“I’m making music where there’s no uncertainty about my sexuality,” she says enthusiastically. “I’m also writing about bitches who are gay; it’s not like I’m writing about a wavering straight bitch. I think that it’s time and I think that it’s really important that our narrative doesn’t include that male gaze that has always been [there], because you can always feel when something has been tainted by straightness. You know when something feels diluted; it doesn’t make any sense to me and it’s not interesting to me.”

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The world of drag is also a major source of influence; you only have to look at her album artwork to see how serious she is about it, taking inspiration from queer icons like John Waters, Divine and Holly Woodlawn. Over the course of her tour dates, she’s been inviting local queens to join her on stage in support slots, giving queer talent, both new and established, a platform for their art.

“Being a bio-queen is not kosher in a lot of ways,” she admits, “so I always want my shows to feel that that space is honoured by drag queens who have influenced me.” It comes as no surprise that she’s a self-described mega fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, saying that she’s pro “any type of normalisation of drag culture”.

She first acknowledged that she herself was a bio-queen around five years ago, when she realised that her perception and acceptance of femininity had come via gay men.

“It was a lot easier for me to digest femininity when it was taught to me by people who have some humility about it,” she says. “It’s really hard to be comfortable with yourself as a weird butchy person when you’re learning from people who don’t see the humility in that. Everyone has the right to be feminine and masculine, but when you’re learning it from women who are doing it to get dick, it’s really challenging if you don’t want dick!”

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Despite already becoming an upheld member of the LGBTQ+ community, she admits that she would never choose herself as a spokesperson and is conscious of those that ask her to make comment on behalf of the community.

“I’m a white girl from Brooklyn,” she responds, “you fully cannot ask me questions about the entirety of the queer community - that makes zero sense. People are ignorant, and the only people who are asking me to be a spokesperson are ignorant straight people who have no fucking idea what they’re talking about. I think what’s great about our community, like every community, is that it’s so much more layered than any one person. It’s a tapestry. And that tapestry is many colours and shapes and genders and sizes.”

2019 has been a massive year for the musician and 2020 sees her coming full circle. At time of writing, it’s just been publicly announced that she will support Harry Styles on his arena tour, just over two years since his career-affirming tweet.

“I have a really good opening slot that you are going to queef over!” she proclaims with a burst of excitement. “You will catch me in an arena! Mama has never opened for anyone. I wouldn’t open for most people because I have been headlining my own tour since day one, but I got an opportunity to open for someone who has been a supporter of mine and an icon and a legend since day one, and we’re friends, which is fucking lit!”

“This is about to be an incredible year in Europe. It’s so big!” she enthuses. “I expect to see you front row, tiddies out!”

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Words: Ryan Cahill
Photography: James Robjant
Fashion: Grace Joel
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers

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